More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Frank Bruno (Cabinet Maker)

Cabinet makers do not make cabinets. They make fine furniture. Matter fact, if you look it up in your dictionary, you'll see that a cabinet maker makes fine furniture. He does not make cabinets. It upset my dad very much when people would call up wanting him to make kitchen cabinets.

They [parents Joseph Bruno and Frances Gilberti Bruno] came here after they got married. 1920. He was apprenticed in Tunis, I think at eight years old. You know, the same time he was going to school, he would be apprenticed as a cabinet maker at an early age.

Of course my father, when he first started out, he had no tools. He made his own tools. He made chisels from files. And he made his own rip saw, and things of that sort. And little by little, as he got on with it, he bought a band saw. He bought a table saw. And as time went on he got a shaper, and a turning lathe, of course. You know, things like that. But never have gotten very much past that. So those are the only tools, really, in the shop. And it never was big. My father had, at most, three cabinet makers working for him and himself, and of course my brother and myself.

I worked in my dad's cabinet shop after school and in the summers. I didn't lose a day from school. Matter of fact, that was one thing my father insisted on, is that we didn't even think about whether we were going to college or not. When you finished high school, you went to college, and that was it. All of us. That was automatic. We had to go to college, and day followed the night. So there's no problem there.

To show you how much [my father] really liked his work—after he died, being the lawyer, I went down to his safety deposit box to get his papers and what not, and there was a letter, you know. We thought that was his will. Well, I thought that was a letter of endearment to his wife, his family. But instead it said, "These are the most important, best pieces that I made during my time as a cabinet maker." And he listed this list of pieces and the names of the customers that he made these pieces for. . . . I think that's how much he loved his work. It became a part of him. And as I say, I thought that when he was drawing up his will, that you would think about, you know, your family, your wife, your mother and father, but he thought about his furniture.

I remember very well [that] my brother Victor made a beautiful table. It was a gallery table. And he probably worked a long time, most of a summer on this one table. It was beautiful. And Daddy had it in his shop. And they brought it upstairs. It was in my mother's dining room. You know, had a nice lamp on it and whatnot. It was a very nice chair, table. And, so, a customer that knew that my dad made this particular table said, "I want to buy that table." Daddy said, "Well, it's not for sale. My wife has it in the house. I won't be able to get it out." Said, "No, I want that table." "Well, I'll make you one." Said, "No, I don't want you to make one. I want that particular one." So my dad, regardless of what my mother said—and she was really raising a lot of sand about that—he did make another table. And he swapped it. He did give the customer the table that my brother made, even though I would not know the difference and you wouldn't know the difference and the customer didn't know the difference. But he was that honest.

Frank Bruno was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.